Bombs are falling on Liverpool. It’s early in the Second World War, and no one is safe when darkness falls. Friends, family, love interests – one moment dancing, having the time of their lives, and the next, gone forever – a burning wreck left where once their houses stood. So Arthur Robinson, Jo to his loved ones, joins up with the reconnaissance squad – Loyal Company. Though occasionally heart wrenching, David William Bryan’s retelling of the story of his great uncle feels like one we’ve heard before.
Bryan’s work is undeniably of an incredibly high standard, but as a performer he deserves a more relevant subject matter.
Bryan’s performance is captivating from the off. Thrillingly energetic, Bryan exaggerates every gesture to tell the story with the passion he feels necessary. Cacophonous sound adds to the almost cinematic ambience and, in combination with the fancy lighting capabilities of the Queen Dome space, make the show feel a lot grander in scale than a solo performance would usually manage. The script never places a toe out of line in sharing Robinson’s life, sometimes poetic but more often just straightforward and emotive. "Not a sniff of war," Robinson states of his experience in India, "being a soldier’s not bad at all".
Being transferred to Singapore to fight invading Japanese soldiers thrusts Robinson into a whole new world. Suddenly the horror of it all is so palpable in Bryan’s eyes, and the audience receive as much reprieve from constant terror as Robinson. But as bad as the situation gets, a shameful sentiment begins to build. It is the lack of surprise, the absence of any real shock, that leaves a bitter taste from Bryan’s show. At the risk of sounding desensitised, Robinson’s story is not particularly uncommon. Considering the amount of artistic attention received by war stories, it is understandable that the impact of this particular one might hit with less force than say, 50 years ago. Bryan makes no effort to show why this play is urgent to share right now, without anything strikingly original in the events taking place. After all, the horror of war hasn’t been a new subject really since Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front, albeit covering a different war.
It's not the case that Arthur Robinson’s story doesn’t deserve to be told. It’s just painfully obvious how similar ground has been covered over the years. in David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, Empire of the Sun, and even more recently in Unbroken. Bryan’s work is undeniably of an incredibly high standard, but as a performer he deserves a more relevant subject matter. Politically, what is he trying to say with this piece of theatre?